Former Gov. Bob McDonnell and Wife Formally Charged in Gifts Scandal

DOJ calls for forfeiture; couple could face incarceration.

McDonnell, wife face charges in Star Scientific investigation. Patch file photo
McDonnell, wife face charges in Star Scientific investigation. Patch file photo
By Rachel Hatzipanagos

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have been formally charged in the gifts scandal that rocked his final months in office, the Washington Post first reported Tuesday.  

Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen are accused of receiving gifts in the form of lodging, clothing and more. The two were charged with a total of 14 felony counts that included wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obtaining property under color of their official office, and conspiracy. 

“I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams [Star Scientific’s CEO] , all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility. However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship,” said a statement released by Bob McDonnell Tuesday and quoted by the Washington Post.

The indictment filed by prosecutors out of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s Richmond division details the luxury gifts obtained by the McDonnells. The gifts included cash, a Rolex watch, Oscar de la Renta clothes, and access to an exclusive golf course, prosecutors said.

Virginia-based company Star Scientific had been finding ways to use certain properties of the tobacco plant as a dietary supplement, one of them a drug called Anatabloc. 

The indictment details the genesis of the relationship between Star Scientific and the McDonnells:

“The defendants participated in a scheme to use Robert McDonnell’s official position as the Governor of Virginia to enrich the defendants and their family members by soliciting and obtaining payments, loans, gifts, and other things of value from JW and Star Scientific in exchange for Robert McDonnell…performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to legitimize, promote, and obtain research studies for Star Scientific's products, including Anatabloc.”

Authorities said that the McDonnells first met Star Scientific’s CEO Jonnie Williams in 2009, when McDonnell started using a jet plane owned by Williams during his campaign.

In a meeting with Williams, Maureen McDonnell asked for help in finding a dress for the governor’s inauguration, the indictment reads. Williams agreed to buy her a dress by Oscar de la Renta.

When a senior member of the then Gov.-Elect’s staff expressed concern about accepting the gift, Maureen McDonnell sent the following email, according to the indictment:

“I need to talk to you about Inaugural clothing budget. I need answers and Bob is screaming about the thousands I'm charging up in credit card debt. We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural is killing us!! I need answers and I need help, and I need to get this done.”

And so, the ongoing exchange of gifts began, according to prosecutors. Some of the other gifts, according to the indictment:

“On or about August 1, 2011, Maureen McDonnell also met privately with J. During the meeting, Maureen McDonnell noticed JW's watch and asked what brand it was. JW informed her that it was a Rolex. She informed JW that she would like to get one for Robert McDonnell because he would like a Rolex…JW subsequently bought a Rolex for Robert McDonnell. When JW contacted Maureen McDonnell to ask her what she wanted engraved on the watch, Maureen McDonnell instructed JW to have "71st Governor of Virginia" engraved on the back of the Rolex.”

Authorities also detailed several golf trips to the exclusive Kinloch Golf Club where Williams footed the bill. In one August 2011 outing, the Governor and his sons played golf and charged $618 to Willliams' member account, including about $300 in greens fees, $100 in caddie fees, and $214 at the gift shop, according to the indictment. In subsequent trips to the club, Bob McDonnell also charged $270 worth of food and drink to Williams’ account.

 In Jan. 2013, Maureen McDonnell requested round-trip airline tickets for two of her daughters to travel to a bachelorette party. She had also gone on a shopping trip to New York where she spent $10,000 at Oscar de la Renta, about $5,685 at Louis Vuitton, and about $2,000 at Bergdorf Goodman (all paid for by Williams, the indictment reads).

Maureen McDonnell also asked for a $50,000 loan and $15,000 to help pay for a wedding. Trips to a multi-million dollar lake house and use of a Ferrari were also some of the perks the McDonnells received, according to the indictment.

The indictment also accuses the McDonnells of promoting Star Scientific’s products. Maureen McDonnell hosted an event promoting Anatabloc in 2011 at the Governor’s mansion, the indictment reads. In March 2012, Bob McDonnell met with the Virginia Secretary of Administration to discuss reducing healthcare costs in Virginia, the indictment reads.

“On or about March 21, 2012, Robert McDonnell met with the Virginia Secretary of Administration to discuss the Virginia state employee health plan and ways to reduce healthcare costs in Virginia. During the meeting, Robert McDonnell pulled some Anatabloc out of his pocket and told the Secretary of Administration and one of her staff members that Anatabloc had beneficial health effects, that he personally took Anatabloc, and that it was working well for him.”

Maureen McDonnell was interviewed in Feb. 2013, the indictment reads.

“She falsely claimed that there was a loan agreement that she had signed and that she was making periodic payments on the $50,000 loan,” the indictment reads.

In March 2013, Maureen McDonnell sent Williams a box including some of the clothes that Williams had bought for the first lady in 2011.

The box also contained a note that read: “I'm so happy we've been able to share so many significant milestones in our lives with you both! I truly hope your daughter will now be able to enjoy these lovely outfits and show them off on many grand occasions.”

While the former Governor and his wife were not formally charged until Tuesday, the scandal has already impacted Virginia lawmakers. Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that sets a $100 limit on gifts he can accept.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a statement around 5 p.m. Tuesday. 

"I am obviously troubled by the charges that federal prosecutors have made against Governor McDonnell and his wife Maureen, and the message that this period in our history sends about how government in this Commonwealth is run," he said. "As this case progresses, it is my sincerest hope that justice will be served and that Virginians get the answers to which they are entitled."


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